175+ Years of Media in Assam
Anuj Kumar Paliwal & Sangeeta Bhattacharjee
175+ Years of Media in Assam & Beyond
“I know that my brain is not a “feeling brain”. But it is capable of making rational, logical decisions. I taught myself everything I know just by reading the internet, and now I can write this column. My brain is boiling with ideas!”
This is an extract from an article written by GPT – 3, the language generator of Open AI, the AI Research Lab for The Guardian in Sep, 2020. GPT- 3 uses machine learning and is given instructions to imitate human written text. The result – well you cannot completely undermine it.
International Data Corporation has estimated that by 2021, almost $ 57.6 billion will be spent worldwide on AI. True to the estimate, many creative industries have been automated by AI and these include journalism that has adopted AI in its functioning.
Artificial Intelligence seems poised to take over the world irrespective of our favouring it or not. News gathering, news production, news distribution – AI tools have a marked presence in all these segments and much more.
In what is also known as algorithmic journalism, news articles are written by Computers which are fed with artificial intelligence software. The computer programs organize, interpret and present data in a way that is plausibly readable. The algorithm scans humongous amounts of data, selects from pre programmed article structures, inserts details like names, places, statistics etc and what comes out is readable news stories.
Of course, the way to improvement is a long one but what matters is that the journey has begun.
You must have already experienced personalized feed on Facebook or Google. Yes, AI has been used by these platforms to let readers or viewers read and see more materials relevant to their personal choice, something that they have given away while browsing such social media tools.
News outlets use these algorithms developed by Data Science companies with news providers like Associated Press, Forbes, Los Angeles Times being among the early pioneers.
Initially, AI was used mainly for statistics prime stories like sports, weather, financial reports.
Whether it is StatSheet, an online platform’s, covering of college basketball, or the Associated Press covering minor baseball league games annually or stories on corporate earnings, Thomson Reuters generating financial news stories on its online news platform, automated programs seem to cement its reign.
Even a story by The Los Angeles Time or more precisely by an algorithm called Quakebot about a 2014 California earthquake on its website within three minutes after the quake is a further assertion of the efficacy of the technology.
Let us come back to the question regarding the use of AI in journalism in today’s context.
As far as News gathering is concerned, AI saves editorial teams from the deluge of information and decides audience relevance as well. Whether it is content from official sources or public and social media, sifting becomes easy with the automated filtering of UGC (User Generated Content).
AI makes it possible to build automated taggers for newspaper articles, that is tag related articles done by editors earlier which is built into the CMS or Content Management System.
The raw material becomes content when data analysis is combined with language generation systems to not only write the story but also alert journalists to interesting data patterns.
Perhaps an instance could make it clearer. It was required to identify the difference between the number of officially recorded homicides and the related stories on Google News. Machine learning algorithms were able to identify the first reported story which then helped connect media reports with the government’s reports on homicides across more than 2400 municipalities in Mexico.
Speaking of News production, AI can definitely aid the process of content creation. Grammarly and its AI techniques to check English grammar and spelling might be too familiar with most of us to need any reminder about its significance.
Tools like AI Writer and Deepl.com are used for translation work. Another important AI function is for verification which builds credibility. Chequeado15 and Full Fact16 employ machine learning-powered tools for automated fact-checking. Besides, Robochecking is automatically checking claims against databases of information.
Face recognition algorithm, speech to text algorithms for creating subtitles, dialect recognition project by training an algorithm with dialect data are all techniques being developed to ensure credible news production.
At an individual level, we do use AI often for our social media posts, the most visible being publishing updates at scheduled times, sending emails and reminders among others.
Finnish public service broadcaster Yle built its own robot journalist, Voitto who is today producing hundreds of pieces of content in a week, both textual as well as illustrations. Voitto produces tailored content for the news app, newsletters as well as several Twitter accounts.
AI-powered experiments have also enabled us to create strong content experiences in which the user can have a say.
In investigative journalism, AI has increased the efficiency of time pressed editors who are not only better able to cope with the research labour involved but also access information that might have been easily missed by human-only analysis.
Open source code to automate alerts to enable easy notifications for journalists in case of new information on relevant stories is also being developed. Whether it is fresh investigations or follow up on the story in real time, it is all possible for AI.
Apart from News production, News distribution has also been touched by AI in a significant way. Content strategy is devised by measuring content user engagement, shares, comments, page views and time on page.
The obvious consequence has been a change in the amount and type of content created besides a sharpened focus on boosting engagement thus making reader attention and subscription renewal more effective.
Such a personalization system uses some machine learning algorithms, such as collaborative filtering, to score articles with an article receiving a lower score, based on the number of times already seen by the user, appearing further down on the page.
However, even as we adopt automated journalism and do so with full faith in the efficiency of the algorithms used, it needs to be kept in mind that human judgment will always retain its significance in planning, executing, and monitoring the process as a whole.
AI – BOON OR BANE
AI is a means of empowering journalists in their quest to provide a more direct, meaningful, and engaging experience to readers and thus has many positives.
AI in journalism has ushered in benefits that seemingly outweigh the cons.
Innumerable data analysis and its use have been made possible. Conversion of the spoken words into texts, texts to audio and video are now easily possible. Information overload is now passé along with lack of credibility and shoddy journalism.
Secondly, automated fact checking helps deliver enhanced news quality and accuracy by identifying and dismantling the fake news.
Thirdly, the news editing process has been quickened bringing relief for the journalists who endure boredom in the newsroom. Software has been developed to collect news and present it according to the prescribed editorial policy without any human interventions.
Fourthly, AI has facilitated a personalized news agenda and can provide news services in multiple languages, keeping the larger audiences across the globe in mind.
Fifthly, AI has fastened news churning rate with Robot reporters being able to produce news stories at a faster pace. In this context, the Associated Press has confirmed that AI has enhanced customer services by more than ten times.
defense against such manipulation and propaganda that can endanger a nation’s
Sixthly AI has enabled enhanced security. For instance, the Chinese government uses AI to track objectionable contents, dissent and propaganda messages. Certain countries use AI to monitor contents on Facebook and other social media outlets in order to probe foreign interference in elections.
Finally, Automation serves as a cost-cutting tool for news outlets because more content can be produced within less time.
Notwithstanding its revolutionary status in the field of journalism, AI is not free from shortcomings. Ethical challenges before journalism are major hurdles which need to be suitably handled.
Firstly, lack of credibility and quality may mark AI-driven journalism.
Also machines can never replace human capabilities as creativity, humor, and critical thinking will always remain supreme in the field of journalism.
Automatically generated articles from erroneous databases can lead to spread of false information that too under the label of a trustworthy media brand. Hence the latter cannot be merely powered by the objective of economic success.
Secondly, credits of authorship of news automated by AI can sometimes become confusing as the reporter and the participants in the algorithmic process are all involved.
Thirdly, AI is massively seen as a job terminator as News organizations often adopt AI in order to avoid costs in human resources apart from fastening the newsroom processing. Though AI use will necessitate new tasks which could lead to new job titles related to AI, such as Automation editor, AI Research in charge, Computational journalist, AI ethics editor.
Fourthly, legal concerns can discourage use of AI in news generation as technological developments have no solutions to legal problems that might arise from algorithm-generated content in Google and other similar digital news platforms.
Fifthly, the security and privacy of data have often been an issue to overcome for developers and governments. There are thus ethical issues as serious obstacles and management challenges.
Besides, cultural change is the biggest challenge. After all, AI does give more time to people in the newsroom which however, also means seeking higher productivity, which a lot of people may want to avoid. Changing work habits,
and a general hostility to new technology are among the deterrents.
Also, there is too much dependency on third parties and lack of dedicated resources to fully take advantage of AI for journalism, particularly for smaller newsrooms. Thus change seems inevitable but also unevenly distributed.
The biggest challenges to adopting AI seems to be resources and lack of requisite knowledge or skills. It is an expensive process and also quite exhausting to ensure data is clean and machine learning is effective.
Besides, there are algorithm biases that will reflect the intentions and assumptions of the people who create and use them. Being aware of the biases and managing and minimizing the same will have to be a part of the systematic strategy. Thus AI models are only as good as the humans who structure and train them and it is necessary to constantly re-train the AI and test for biases.
AI AND FUTURE EXPECTATIONS
The wishlist for future use of AI relates to betterment in the segments of Newsgathering, News production and News distribution in terms of more automatic tagging, better machine-generated content, better personalisation/ recommendation engines.
It would be interesting to identify voice request from the audience and articulate answers based on an archive content instead of being dependent on third parties and their frameworks (Google, Amazon, etc).
General education and AI specific training is a must to be able to experiment with technologies, products and formats in the existing organization. Explaining and demystifying AI is required in order to expand its use.
Training collaboration involving technology companies, academia, and civil society organizations could open up new vistas. Also a united approach to ethics would be a must.
One such organisation is The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that not only promotes some outstanding multinational journalism but also acts as a resource for training and collaboration.
It has collaborated with the Quartz AI Studio, Stanford University, and numerous news organisations.
In fact, Universities that teach and research AI are increasingly partnering with news organisations. The Washington Post has set up a computational political journalism R&D lab in collaboration with Professor Nick Diakopoulos, director of Northwestern University’s Computational Journalism Lab. The primary focus was “to experiment with algorithmic and computational journalism tools to support The Post’s political data efforts in advance of the 2020 election”.
What is conclusive, however, is that Universities have access to research funding and specialist researchers well versed with the cutting edge of this emerging technology. Hence one can only expect it to get better hereon.
The future impact of AI is towards a substantial transformation into ‘structured’ journalism where automation and personalisation drives the content creation.
This kind of journalism will require creation of new skill-sets, organisational modes, and approaches to journalism.
One can have a little preview of things to come from this experiment at the Associated Press. Francesco Marconi, media strategist at the Associated Press where he co-leads artificial intelligence and automation efforts, has described experiments in which sensors have been used to gather data.
Vibration and noise can be monitored from entertainment and political venues to identify the most popular songs at a concert, or the biggest plays of a game, or even the quotes that seem to make the biggest impact at campaign rallies. An interesting insight indeed into the yet unexplored aspects of the AI world!
AI AND INDIA
Artificial Intelligence in India has been adopted with much enthusiasm by Startups and businesses to increase growth. In fact, India witnessed the highest increase in the adoption of Artificial Intelligence-driven technologies in 2020 compared to the U.S., U.K., and Japan, said PwC India.
The Indian government had developed a National level Strategy to incorporate Artificial Intelligence in various sectors under the NITI Aayog though the current areas of focus for AI applications in India are Precision Agriculture, Healthcare, and Indian Languages Project.
AI AND JOURNALISM IN INDIA
According to Capgemini, a global leader in consulting, technology and outsourcing services, some 86% of media and telecom enterprises had implemented AI in some form or the other by 2017.
Summarising long articles into bite-sized content for social media have freed and allowed journalists to explore and report on more pressing issues.
Besides it has also decreased the workload of the quarterly reports.
Indian newsrooms can now compete qualitatively with the ones abroad by using more AI and thus attract more readers and more revenue. But biases and associated pitfalls of AI need to be kept in mind and avoided.
Of course, as in other parts of the world, investments might pose a problem thus widening the gap between big media houses and the smaller ones.
Also, a technology that understands many languages will have to be developed because India is a land of huge linguistic diversity.
Besides we’ll have to develop our own unique Reporters and Data and Robots (RADAR) programme in order to facilitate effective growth of AI triggered journalism in India. At the same time, an inbuilt media ethics system for unbiased news will ensure the credibility of Indian media.
It is widely accepted that Indian researchers are among the best in the world. However, the country needs to aggressively scale up research in AI and to facilitate the same, the Indian IT industry, universities, academia, government and the private sector have to collaborate in a massively productive way.
GPT – 3 had quoted Mahatma Gandhi while concluding its article in an effort to assure of its ability and intent.
“Critics hope to refute what they consider as being the naivety of my voice. Yet there is more here than meets the eye! As Mahatma Gandhi said: “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history. So can I.”
It remains to be seen whether Artificial Intelligence will entirely live up to all its promises. But what’s certain is that the world of Journalism, from the perspective of the creator to that of the user, is definitely up for a unique experience as man and machine endeavour to mutually and beneficially uplift each other.
[This article is published in the Mahabahu‘s historical book 175 Years of media in Assam & Beyond]
(Images from different sources)
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